Saturday, September 19, 2009

West of Lake Michigan—Part IV

The following morning, right in the middle of watching Captain Kangaroo and eating cold cereal, the Chicago Police showed up at our house. I should have expected it after telling Janice—the daughter of a police captain—about the near-miss-kidnapping episode, but I never saw it coming.

Mother reluctantly let the police into the house while explaining Dad couldn't be reached because he was in the hospital. They didn’t care. The Chicago PD wanted details about the ransom on a son who wasn’t kidnapped, and about Dad's injuries. "What did the men look like?" "How many men were involved?" They said they could do a line-up if Dad came down to the station. Mother was evasive and cast an angry look in my direction.

I shrugged, giving her the "oops' expression. Mother wasn’t minding her hospitality manners so I offered them coffee. They accepted and sat down. Since I was too short to reach the coffee mugs, Mother had to leave the room to do it. Alone with the Chicago PD, I waited for commercial, and then asked how I could help them.

By the next day, my show-and-tell story ended up as headlines in The Chicago Tribune. I knew I my story was very good! Authors, even budding ones, have a second sense about these things. It was probably how I learned about the power of words both written and spoken.

My older sister, Karen, was thankful for the mention I gave her during my conversation with the police, and also, with the show-and-tell, because now her name was in the newspaper, too. She bought copies to pass around to all her friends. Since she was five years older than me, she had access to her own money and the ability of getting to the drug store by crossing the street alone.

After speaking to my Dad at the hospital, the Chicago PD gave not only Karen police protection, but also Russell—the un-kidnapped victim. I was the only one without protection which I found totally prejudicial. My mother explained it was because I took the school bus, so they felt I was safe. Well, my brother Russell took the very same bus as I, but since he had been the target, extra security was provided for him. I still wasn’t sure what my sister's security was all about, but she now walked to the CTA bus stop with a very handsome plainclothes policeman. And as for me, well, I was—as they say—out in the cold, fending for myself and keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who might want to do me harm—in addition to the regular popular girls at my school.

The worst part of all was when my mother sent Dad off to Arizona to escape the hoopla and told family members and friends that I made up the entire kidnapping story. Her words made me lose credibility. I understood they were trying to save their reputations—but I was trying to gain recognition. Being branded a liar had a domino effect. Not wanting her daughter to play with a liar, and not just any liar but a headline making liar, Monica’s mother forbade her to ever play with me again. This was a huge blow. Monica was my best friend. I couldn't even talk to her on the phone, I know because I asked. My best friend and I were over. There was no one to spook the customers with in The Ivanhoe Catacombs. It almost wasn’t worth my time. It was a sad, sad day. I even had given Monica her, her first bra, years before either one of us needed it. Didn’t that mean anything? And now between school and home, there was no one to talk to except the police and reporters. I adjusted and kept right on talking.

The worst was yet to come. The same night Peter Pan jumped out of the fish bowl and died when he was chopped to pieces in the disposal, Mother told us she was going to join Dad in Arizona. They would be gone for a month. My older half brother, Dick and his wife, Joan, along with their son, Rick, would be moving in with us to take care of things.

That first night in bed, I trembled in the darkness beneath my pink blanket and said my goodnight prayers to myself. I was certain there'd be no sleep until Mother was back home. If I thought I was alone before, now I was really alone. My princesshood was way over; I had no best friend, no school friends, no parents, and a dead fish, and right in the middle of media frenzy, too. But that was just the beginning.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

West of Lake Michigan—Part III

I had my story for show-and–tell. It was a blockbuster, too, so I rose early to make sure my appearance was good, since all eyes would be upon me. Hair combed, teeth brushed, but not much I could do about my itchy, navy wool skirt and button down white blouse. The uniform was hard to work with when I wanted to wear pink chiffon every day, but no, it wasn’t allowed.

At school, in the my third grade class room, sitting in my back of the room, last-person- in- the-aisle desk, I waited patiently, listening to all the pathetic stories about teddy bears and how a cop ticketed someone’s dad for running a red light. All the normal, run of the mill type yawners I heard last week. Finally, it was my turn. I rose from my desk, squared my skinny shoulders and walked to the front of the room where I looked face-to-face. Eye contact is most important for holding and maintaining attention. I took a breath of stale classroom air and quickly spilled the story.

Looks of horror crossed the faces of not only the very popular but the quite smart and my stoic-faced teacher, too. It was so hard not to smile. I wanted to smile, but thought my dad being hurt and going to the hospital wasn’t an appropriate time to show happiness. I wasn’t happy about my dad, I was sad. Very, very sad. What did make me happy was that I had delivered an amazing story, making me the buzz word in the cafeteria at lunch. Maybe Jessica* (not her real name) would even allow me sit across the table from her when I eat my usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, without potato chips (Mother thinks potato chips aren’t healthy—she keeps forgetting that taste matters).

I think my social standing at the private school raised me up one notch to the third most unpopular girl in my class. I had expectations for so much more, but Jessica sitting at the table behind me, instead of with me, might have had something to do with it. Just like real-estate, location is essential.

When I got home, a friend from down the street Janice* (it is her real name), came over to play Barbies. I was actually holding out for Monica to get home so we could play Barbie's, but I let Janice talk to me on the front porch until then. I couldn’t help but say the words, “I was so worried about my mother and my dad all day.”

“Don’t get me started.”
“Tell me.”

And the same show-and-tell story fell from my lips. Janice couldn’t help if she went to public instead of private and I do believe in equal opportunity for all. And total disclosure. But there is where I went totally wrong. Janice’s dad was a Chicago policeman.

By the time I went to bed that night, I had this uneasy feeling I might have told the story one time too many.